A cough, sore throat, runny nose, and fever are symptoms of a common cold and can easily be treated, usually in seven to ten days. Cancer, on the other hand, cannot be treated so effortlessly. Treatments for cancer have only been discovered in the last century to help prevent the increasing death rate, thus giving patients hope in facing such a tumultuous ailment. It is true: cancer can be treated. With the right care, attention and action, there is no doubt that cancer is curable. While there are some that say cancer is incurable, there is no way of guaranteeing that this is true when many people have actually recovered from these treatments. With the help of funding and growth in research, it is possible to find a cure for breast cancer, specifically.
Breast cancer is a disease in which malicious cancer cells develop in the tissues of the breast or a dangerous tumor that has developed from cells in the breast. The possibility of breast cancer could develop if one of your family member has had it before, or if you are being obese, practicing an unhealthy diet, experience early menstruation or late menopause, using birth control pill for more than 10 years, had radiation at an early age, using hormone replacement therapy or smoking (“Breast Cancer”). The symptoms are usually when a lump or change in the breast is found or when an abnormal area is seen on a mammogram (“What is Breast Cancer?”). Swelling of all or part of the breast, skin irritation or dimpling, breast pain, nipple pain or the nipple turning inward, redness, scaly, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin, a nipple discharge could also be the symptoms of breast cancer (“Symptoms of Breast Cancer”). Sometime those signs may be the result of a non-cancerous tumor, though very rare.
Breast cancers could begin in the ducts, lobules or a few starts in other breast tissues. The duct is a pathway in the breast through which milk passes from the lobules to the nipple. The lobule is spherical-shaped sacs in the breast that produce milk (“What is Breast Cancer?”).
There are invasive (spreading) and non-invasive (non-spreading) breast cancers (“Breast Cancer Types: What Your Type Means”). Invasive breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) which is the most common form of breast cancer affecting about 80% of all patients with invasive breast cancer and followed by invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) as the second most common form of invasive breast cancer (“Breast Cancer”). Non-invasive breast cancers are ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) (“Breast Cancer Types: What Your Type Means”). DCIS is a precancerous lesion which turns into invasive cancer if it were left in the body (“Breast Cancer Types: What Your Type Means”). LCIS is the opposite of DCIS which is not precancerous because it does not develop into invasive cancer but it does increase the risk of cancer in both breasts (“Breast Cancer Types: What Your Type Means”).
There are four stages of cancer where stage 0 is when abnormal cells have yet infected outside the ducts or lobules; stage one is when cancer is not larger than 2 centimeters and has yet spread to the lymph nodes or near breast; stage two has two parts where stage 2.1, the cancer is not bigger than 2 centimeters and has spread to up to three underarm lymph nodes, or the cancer is larger than 2 centimeters but not larger than 5 centimeters and has yet spread. In stage 2.2, the cancer is between 2 to 5 centimeters and has spread to up to three lymph nodes, or the cancer is larger than five centimeters and has not spread; stage three is also divided into two parts. Stage 3.1 refers to the tumor being larger than 2 centimeters yet smaller than 5 centimeters and spreading up to nine lymph nodes. In stage 3.2, the cancer has spread reaching other tissue near the breast. This includes the skin, chest wall, ribs, muscles or lymph nodes in the chest wall and above the collar bone; in stage four the cancer has spread to other organs such as the liver, brain, lungs, skeletal system or lymph nodes next to the collarbone (“Breast Cancer”). Stages 0 to 2 are non-invasive and early stage invasive breast cancer have better survival rate than stages 3 to 4, because cancer that stays in the breast has a better diagnosis than the one is spreading to the lymph nodes. However stage 4 has the lowest prognosis as the cancer has spread to other areas of the body and throughout the lymph nodes (“Breast Cancer”). Breast cancer treatment differs depending on the type and stage of cancer.
Breast cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. Surgeries, radiation, drug (chemotherapy and hormonal therapy) are the main treatments for breast cancers. (“Treatment & Side Effects”). Not every patient is compatible with the same treatment and therapy is usually included. The choice of treatment determined by many factors like age, menopause status, type of cancer, stage of cancer, and whether the tumor has hormone receptors or not.
Breast cancer treatments are defined as local or systemic. Surgery and radiation are considered local therapies because they directly treat the tumor, breast, lymph nodes, or other specific regions. Drug treatment is called systemic therapy, as it affects the whole body.
Therapies are mix and match to suit the patient’s type of cancer and stage.
Any or all of these therapies may be used separately or, most often, in different combinations. For example, radiation alone or with chemotherapy or hormone therapy may be beneficial before surgery, if the tumor is large. Surgery followed by radiation and hormone therapy is usually recommended for women with early-stage, hormone-sensitive cancer. There are numerous clinical trials investigating new treatments and treatment combinations. Patients, especially those with advanced stages of cancer, may wish to consider enrolling in a clinical trial.( “Breast Cancer Treatments for Breast Cancer Stages 0-5”)
Surgery is the usual standard initial treatment. Surgery for breast cancer has two types: Mastectomy that removes all of the breast tissue, and Lumpectomy is the removal of only the tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue (“Mastectomy vs. Lumpectomy”). There are advantages and disadvantages when receiving one of the two treatments.
A breast cancer patient can maintain the appearance of their breast when they receive Lumpectomy treatment, the surgery is less aggressive and they could recover in short amount of time. However, after the surgery they will have to go through radiation therapy, which may affect their option for later surgery to lift or balance their breasts, for five days a week for about 5 to 7 weeks long to make sure the cancer is gone. Getting lumpectomy has a higher risk in the recurrence of the cancer than mastectomy. If the cancer reappears or a new cancer develops, they would usually be recommended accepting mastectomy treatment because the breast cannot safely tolerate another radiation. An additional or more surgeries may be needed after the first lumpectomy because more tissue needs to be removed if there are still cancer cells around the cancer tumor (“Lumpectomy: Advantages and Disadvantages”).
As for Mastectomy, there is less chance for breast cancer to come back but breast cancer patient will permanently loss their breast, but they can have additional surgeries to reconstruct their breast after the surgery. Depending on the outcome of the pathology, radiation therapy may be required. Mastectomy takes longer time to recover and is more extensive than lumpectomy, with more post-surgery side effects (“Mastectomy: Advantages and Disadvantages”).
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells or to shrink the size of a tumor in the breast or surrounding tissue. The therapy help reduce the chance of breast cancer recurrence in the breast and chest wall. The side effects of radiation include fatigue, nausea, lack of appetite, skin changes and burns occur on the breast skin. Uncommonly, the breast may change color, size, or become permanently firm. Arm swelling and develop impaired mobility or even paralysis are side effects that rarely happen (“Breast Cancer Radiation Treatment”).
Drugs may include either chemotherapy or hormone therapy. Drug therapy may be used as main therapy for patients for whom surgery or radiation therapy is not appropriate, neoadjuvant therapy (before surgery or radiation) to shrink tumors to a size that can be treated with local therapy, or as adjuvant therapy (following surgery or radiation) to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. For metastatic cancer, drugs are used not to cure but to improve quality of life and prolong survival (“Breast Cancer Treatments for Breast Cancer Stages 0-5”).
Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses medicine spread through the bloodstream to weaken and destroy cancer cells in the body, original cancer spot and other part of the body that may have been develop. Sometime chemotherapy is given to shrink the cancer before surgery. In chemotherapy, a mixture of two or more medicines for breast cancer is used. Chemotherapy is used to diagnose: early-stage invasive breast cancer to clear any cancer cells that are left behind after surgery and to reduce the risk of the cancer from coming back, and advanced-stage breast cancer to destroy or damage the cancer cells as much as possible (“Chemotherapy”). The common side effects of chemotherapy are like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, temporary hair loss, weight loss, fatigue and depression (“Side Effects of Chemotherapy”).
Hormonal therapy treats hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers by lowering the amount of the hormone estrogen in the body and blocking the action of estrogen on breast cancer cells. It reduces the risk of early-stage hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers from recurring after surgery. Hormonal therapy medicines can also be used to help shrink or slow the growth of advanced-stage or metastatic hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers (“Hormonal Therapy”).
According to the information provided on the National Breast Cancer Foundation website, breast cancer is the second cancer death cause for women in the United States after lung cancer. It does not affect women alone: men can also get breast cancer. About 1 of 1000 men are at risk of breast cancer whereas for women are at risk for every 1 out of 8 people (“U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics”).The National Cancer Institute estimates new cases and deaths of breast cancer in United States in 2012 with 226,870 new cases for females and males have 2,190 new cases. The death estimate for females is 39,510 and 410 for males (“National Cancer Institute”). Such high numbers demand change – treatment.
Nancy, a 2 ½ year breast cancer survivor, knew about her cancer that was caught on the mammogram in the early stage of the cancer which was stage 1. She successfully had lumpectomy and went through 35 radiation therapy for her treatments. Having known about her cancer made her felt angry and scared as if it was a death sentence. Her husband comforted her by telling her that they would fight this cancer together. Seeing the sore after her surgery and radiation treatment scares her but it is also a reminder for herself of the blessing for the early diagnosis and successful surgery and treatments (“Breast Cancer Survivor Story - Nancy”).
Dana, who was being trained in the Mammography field by the U.S. Air Force in 1993, found that it was very odd to handle other women’s breast even though it was for medical test. But thanks to her job position, she became highly aware of the importance of getting Mammography for a possibility detection of breast cancer. Preventing is better than curing. Dana was able to get her grandmother for a mammography test who at first disagrees to do so. Dana grandmother had a double mastectomy after two weeks of her test. The doctor said that if she waited another six months they would not have been able to do anything for her (Dana). Early detection gives a higher chance of treating.
Michelle from Colorado felt something odd like a lump in her right breast after three months she had her mammogram and the radiologist did not see anything unusual. It was confirmed by her radiologist that it was a cyst. They tried to drain the cyst but were unable to do so. By mid-March, Michelle was convinced by her co-workers and relatives to get a second opinion. The new surgeon was able to feel the tumor and she also tried to drain it but no luck. Then, she recommended biopsy to remove the tumor. Michelle was in a state of shock when it turned out to be a 2.4 centimeters tumor. She had mastectomy on her right breast and a temporary implant inserted, and six rounds of chemotherapy. She had to take tamoxifin for five years because her tumor was estrogen receptive positive. Even though she was very sick after the first round of chemotherapy, the other five went well that she even went to a birthday party, camping and took a small trip to San Francisco. On April 4, 2002 was the mark of five years since her surgery. Michelle considered herself to be lucky as she have lost four of her friends: one to leukemia, one to eye cancer and two to breast cancer. Michelle continued to visit the support group to help others who were recently diagnosed, and participate in Relay for Life and the Race for the Cure. Michelle stated that self-breast examination is extremely important as well as second opinion (Michelle).
Government grants and funding alone are not enough to cover the entirety of research for breast cancer. Therefore, companies and organization help raise funds for breast cancer in their own way. Susan G. Komen Cure is one of the organizations that raise funds specifically for breast cancer. Komen is the biggest non-government funder for breast cancer research. Komen support research that will find and provide cures for breast cancer. There are companies that team up with this organization not only contributing in financial but also raising awareness of breast cancer. These corporates give a number of percent of their sell to Komen for the breast cancer funds.
Statistics prove that breast cancer is curable and that its cure can be discovered. It is a matter of time, efforts, financial requirements, and finding the right cure for breast cancer shall be a reality. Breast cancer is probably among the most researched diseases affecting human beings. Many research foundations have dedicated their time and money to research, trying to discover the treatment for breast cancer since 1990 (“Susan G. Komen for Cure”). A number of successes have been gained so far, although much still needs to be done in finding the treatment for breast cancer, especially with the realization that the disease is curable.
Some research foundations like National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) have set timelines to which the treatment for breast cancer should be available across the world. Since its establishment in 1973, the NFCR has spent over $288 million for funding the basic laboratory research of cancer. (“National Cancer Institute”). The research foundation is dedicated to finding the cure for breast cancer and is devoted to funding scientists that deal with cancer research all over the world, searching for the possible cures not only for breast cancer but also for all other types of cancer (McGeary and Burstein, 2).
On its part, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, founded in 2007 provides grants for pioneering research projects on cancer that are aimed at accelerating the efforts in the exploration, development, and application of medication for treating breast cancer. The foundation supports the preclinical research aimed at achieving direct therapeutic goal (McGeary and Burstein, 2).
Efforts in the research of the breast cancer treatment have led to the decrease of deaths caused by the disease to 30% in the last 20 years, an achievement that points to the milestones that research in laboratories has produced in the fight against the killer disease. Similarly, research has enabled a five-year survival rate for patients of breast cancer to rise up to 99% from the rate of 74% twenty years ago. In addition, research information continues to give hope to women who have breast cancer and this is important in increasing their survival rate, because the information that is coming from laboratories around the world is encouraging for them. This is also facilitated by sharing information from research foundations around the world in an effort to combat the disease (Browning, 1).
Initially, research in breast cancer was mainly concentrated within government establishments and academicians in medical fields, who came up with theorized findings on the causes of breast cancer and how to manage the disease once someone became a victim. Now foundations, organizations, and even groups are coming together to synchronize their efforts in researching the treatment for breast cancer. Charity organizations are dedicating their money to support the research for treatment. Additionally, different governments are setting aside a percentage of their annual budget for supporting the institutions that are engaged in the research for the cure of the dreadful disease (National Cancer Institute, 1).
However, research funding in most of the countries that have high level of breast cancer cases is still low and the governments’ allocation to the course does not meet the requirements in the field. Additionally, there is still lack of skills by several research foundations and this means that managing the little funds that are available is a problem. As such, some of the funds that are allocated to several of these institutions are misused or even channeled to other projects that were not initially intended for (“Susan G. Komen for Cure”). The support that is given to the research in breast cancer causes and treatment by the United Nations by setting aside a world day that is celebrated as a world breast cancer day is meant at mobilizing resources and support towards the finding of treatment for breast cancer. The day is also used to sensitize communities and charity institutions to focus their attention in supporting efforts that are aimed at ensuring that the treatment for breast cancer is within the reach of cancer victims (Hewitt, 166).
In conclusion, breast cancer is among the most dreadful diseases that has received a lot of attention from both public and private sector. So many foundations have been formed to help in the fight against breast cancer around the world. It is hoped that the kind of research and funding which is invested in the efforts in search of the treatment for breast cancer will bear fruits and finally women will have a hope of getting treatment whenever they fall victim of the disease.